The death penalty is the punishment handed to people found guilty of capital criminal offenses. Capital punishment is also called the death penalty, and it is carried out through the execution of the offender (Balleisen, 2018). Through death penalty involves killing the offender; it is essential to extrajudicial killing since the latter is done without following the due process stipulated by the law. Though the term capital punishment can be used interchangeably with the term death penalty, it does not necessarily mean people handed the death penalty will be executed. The carrying-on of capital punishment can also be achieved through life imprisonment (McCann, 2008). In the execution of capital punishment, then small numbers, preferably relatives of the offender, are allowed into the execution room/chamber to watch and pay their last respects. In some countries, public execution of capital punishment is carried out in public spaces; this form of execution is public execution. In the past capital crime, has been used to punish murder, arson, treason, and rape. According to Balleisen (2018), capital punishment was also used to punish offenders under the laws of Draco of ancient Greece; the death penalty was also used in other ancient civilizations, including Roman and Islamic civilizations. Capital punishment, specifically the execution of the death penalty, is presently used in 27 states in the US. Rogers et al. (2020) observe that there have grown factions supporting or opposing the death penalty based on their beliefs over time. The study seeks to examine how the public perceives sentencing by the death penalty.
Crimes that lead to a death penalty
Many countries have been carrying death penalties; this has changed over time, with some countries dropping the practice (McCann, 2008). Twenty-seven of the United States states still have used the death penalty to punish crimes. Traditionally death penalties are sentenced to capital crime offenders. McCann (2008) notes that the term capital crime’s description may vary from state to state, but some states also share a similar view as to what crime is considered a capital crime. Capital crime in the US is described as any crime that warrants the death penalty. According to Balleisen (2018), in most cases, capital crimes are crimes that have serious economic implications, murder, or particular circumstances around murder, rape, or robbery, among crimes. In Virginia, premeditated, willful, and deliberate murder during a robbery or a terror act is considered a capital crime.
In some countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, Somalia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the state of Florida, drug trafficking is a capital crime and attracts the death penalty. Countries like China and Taiwan also apply the death penalty to punish economic crimes such as embezzlement of public funds and corruption (Balleisen, 2018). Sexual offenses, including and not limited to rape, are also punishable by the death penalty. The death penalty against sexual offenders, specifically rape offenders, was abolished in 1977 and for child rape in 2008.
Rogers et al. (2020) point out that though many countries still sentence offenders of various crimes by the death penalty, some exercise restrictions over special cases. In most countries, the killing of minors, mostly people below the legal age, is unconstitutional and illegal. Though it may be unlawful to execute children, some countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa), and the US still hand minor offenders death penalties. Minors handed the death penalty are spared execution until they attain the legal age. A study by Rogers et al. (2020) states that the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the execution of minors found guilty of capital crimes warranting the death penalty. The US ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child with reservations about the death penalty. In 2002 the US Supreme Court declared the execution of minors unlawful and unconstitutional. Also included in the exceptional cases spared by the death penalty are pregnant and mentally indisposed persons. Though the US law, as stated by the US Supreme Court in 2005, outlaws the execution of mentally impaired persons, it exempts people below an intelligence quotient (IQ) score of 70 or below (McCann, 2008).
The debate on the death penalty
Though the death penalty has been carried on for a long time, it has caused disgruntling among people. McCann (2008) shows the difference in the perception of the death penalty by the public. Some people are satisfied and okay with the death penalty, while others are entirely opposed. People’s dissatisfaction has gone ahead to open ways to campaign against the death penalty and get it abolished. Proponents of the death penalty view it as the ultimate punishment and crucial in distracting crime and believe that the practice should be maintained. Some proponents of the practice even propose the use of punishment by the death penalty to punish offenders of considerably less serious crimes. According to Balleisen (2018), the proponents feel that imposing the death punishment on crimes such as theft may be the best way to deal with crime in communities. People garnering for and against the death penalty have different views and approaches to the matter based on their moral or religious inclinations.
The majority of US citizens support the death penalty in the cases they view as deserving the sentence and believe that it is constitutional despite the imperfections of the practice (McCann, 2008). The death penalty is approved by the 5th and 14th amendments which state that a person may not be deprived of their property, liberty, or life without the due process of law. The Supreme Court furthermore upheld the death penalty to be lawful and constitutional. In light of the approval of the death penalty by the federal government, 27 US states practice death penalty sentencing.
Proponents of the death penalty support it because, in their view, it serves its penological purpose which is specific deterrence, general deterrence, and retribution (McCann, 2008). General deterrence is used to stop people from committing crimes that may end up in a death penalty sentence. The death penalty also serves to prevent the people found guilty of committing capital crimes from doing it again. When handed the death penalty, the person will die, therefore, will not be there to commit the same or similar offense. On moral grounds, proponents of the practice seek it to be upheld since killing the single offender, and society is saved from a wrongdoer who may have eventually hurt more than just a single person (McCann, 2008). Based on the outcome of crimes committed by people, the proponents argue that it is safer and better to lose a single life over losing more than just a single life as a result of the crime committed. Doing away with a single person makes society safer and more peaceful to conduct daily life routines and maintains the community’s welfare. This type of approach is aimed at causing specific deterrence. McCann (2008) explained that another objective of the death sentence is to ensure that offenders pay for their crimes; this is retribution. Retribution is based on society’s moral belief that the person would have paid for their heinous crimes by death. Through retribution, justice is served, and all are treated equally as justice demands.
Per Bartolotta (2018), proponents of the death penalty over the years have been pushing for the abolishment of the death penalty based on moral and ethical grounds. The opponents also argue that since most countries no longer keep the practice, it is vital for all governments to do away with the death penalty. Opponents also point out that people have been wrongfully sentenced to the death penalty in the past though they were innocent (Loeffler et al., 2018). The opponents point out mistakes in the judicial systems causing any profiling, racial biases, and issues with the judicial systems mandated to pass the sentence that is juries and judges. Opponents of the death penalty implore that it does not always serve the intended objective of general deterrence. To most people, life is precious and valuable. A study by Bartolotta (2018) noted, given the value attached to life and the right to life to all people, opponents of the death penalty are against the practice citing that no person has the right to take away another person’s life regardless of the wrongs committed. People opposing the penalty also argue that retribution is not the perfect punishment and is flawed. The opponents view retribution as vengeance rather than punishment. The opponents point out that if vengeance, everyone getting what they feel owed for crimes committed against them, is upheld, society will be rogue and full of brutal and vengeful people. Opponents of the death penalty are against the practice based on its financial implications; it is expensive to carry out a death penalty execution (Loeffler et al., 2018). The opponents argue that the death penalty process is often lengthy, implying costs in time and money.
Though the death penalty may have served its purpose, its fairness is still a matter of question. The importance of legality, ethics, and moral grounds of the death penalty has been discussed by many people, legislators, law professionals, and the general public without reaching an amicable solution. There is a need for stakeholders to clarify what offense is a capital offense. It is also crucial for the criminal justice system as a whole to satisfactorily provide an amicable ground to which a crime warrants a death penalty. The justice system should reassess the successes and failures of the death penalty and hopefully develop a better option for punishing capital crimes, an option that is acceptable to both opponents and proponents of the death penalty.